It’s happening! The return of the local tomato is upon us here on the North Fork and I am PSYCHED.
I eat tomatoes like apples. Well, not really because that would be really messy and creepy. (I of course now have this hilarious image of me as an old lady sitting on my front porch yelling at cars while I tear into a giant tomato. It’s not an impossibility.) What I meant was, I eat as many as I can while they’re around. Before I chose to dedicate the rest of my life to all food-related pursuits, I kind of bought tomatoes all willy-nilly not realizing that each variety has it’s own characteristics that make them very, very unique. Choosing the right tomato for the specific purpose is very important, and can make a world of a difference in the outcome of your meal.
Before we talk variety, let’s get a couple *really* important things down first…
- Local, is, crucial. Tomatoes are fragile, delicate, fruits. They are naturally a difficult thing to transport when they are at their prime. A lot of huge farms pick them before they’re ripe (green, even…) and ship them like that. By ripening “off the vine”, and “in the truck” what could have been a sweet, amazing, juicy tomato is now kind of a weird grainy tomato-like flavored thing. Not cool. When you buy a local tomato, it has been picked at perfection and has arrived to you as the best tomato that tomato can be. And, it’s probably way prettier, too.
- The tomatoes in your fridge are crying. I’m not kidding. Take them out, and don’t do it again. Keep them on the counter on a plate, no bag, no fridge. If purchased at its prime a tomato can last 2-4 days on your counter before you should maybe start thinking about making some salsa.
- Finding the top tomato: Look for a deep color, firm with a little give. Also, a tomato should smell, well, tomato-y. Give it a quick smell, and look for that sweet woody aroma. And obviously make sure it was local, and vine-ripened.
Now let’s talk about what’s what and where it should go…
clockwise from top left: Beefsteak, Roma, Campari, Cherry, and Heirloom.
- “Beefsteak”, Slicing, and Globe – These are the most common, (and the biggest) tomato variety found in supermarkets. These are meaty, with a high water content, and with little pulp so they are great for sandwiches. If you have not had a “Tomayo” sandwich before, you are missing out. Take two slices of good bread (preferably sourdough) and toast to light brown. Spread on some mayo (none of that low-fat nonsense.) and some thick slices of Beefsteak tomato. Salt, pepper, die happy.
- Plum or Roma – These are the sauce & soup tomatoes. They are meaty like the former, except they have been bred to have a higher solids content. They still have a little pulp but these tomatoes are the only ones that can yield a paste. They are a bit more durable as well since they have a thicker skin and are generally more dense, so if you’re going to eat tomatoes off-season this will probably be your best bet for decent flavor. San Marzano tomatoes also fall into this category, and are essentially the Rolls Royce of plum tomatoes.
- Campari – These are most frequently found on the vine in supermarkets. They are deep red, medium-sized, and really sweet. They have a lot of pulp, have a very low acidity and overall mealiness. There are great for roasting in the oven.
- Cherry and Grape – They’re small, they’re cute, they’re irresistible. Best popcorn ever.
- Heirloom or Heritage- Be careful with these, they are super fragile. Transport them like a newborn baby, not even kidding. These tomatoes are extra special because they are “open-pollinated” or non-hybrid. They are grown from the seeds of the previous harvest and so forth…so technically one can say they are in-bred tomatoes. These tomatoes are by far my favorite because they are SO, SO, flavorful. Heirloom tomatoes lack a genetic mutation that makes most varieties a solid red color. This mutation that makes tomatoes that solid-red we expect also hinders the tomato’s ability to produce as much sugar as it was supposed to. For shame. An heirloom tomato is the most flavorful, and the most colorful. Their shapes are hilarious, and the color patterns can get pretty wild. They are best enjoyed on their own, or in a very, very, basic tomato salad.
A Very, Very, Basic Tomato Salad
High-quality, local, heirloom tomatoes
High-quality fresh mozzarella
Fresh basil, washed, chiffonade (I use a huge bunch. Go nuts.)
Balsamic glaze (They sell this in squeezey bottles. Buy it. It’s your new best friend, but stay away from the flavored ones.)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
1) Cut the tomatoes in quarters and remove the pulp. Slice them into equal sized pieces. This does not have to be fancy and you can go as big or small as you like.
2) Cut the mozzarella around the same size as the tomatoes.
3) Combine the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil in a big ol’ bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.
4) Drizzle on the balsamic glaze right before serving.
Don’t forget to keep it out of the fridge if you are saving leftovers! Just cover the bowl in plastic wrap and leave it out…but, I really doubt you’re going to have leftovers.